Historian Swick co-authors book on Aaron Burr

PARKERSBURG – A local historian and expert on the Blennerhassetts has co-written a book on the last days of Aaron Burr based on an account in a newspaper published nearly 140 years ago.

Ray Swick, historian for the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, and Martha Kakuk of Kalamazoo, Mich., collaborated on the self-published “Aunt Abby’s and Aaron Burr’s Last Days: Staten Island, the Summer of 1836, and the Death of America’s Most Notorious Man,” taken from one of the most-detailed first-person accounts of when Burr died, Swick said.

Burr, who was the third vice president of the United States, was tried and acquitted of treason in 1807. Harman Blennerhassett was accused of collaborating with Burr and the affiliation led to the demise of the wealthy Blennerhassetts.

The article contains information about the circumstances of Burr’s death at the Richmond House, a hotel on Staten Island, where he was cared for by Abba G. Bailey and his cousin, Judge Ogden Edwards, a resident of Staten Island. Bailey was not at Burr’s side when he died but many friends were, Swick said.

Kakuk found the newspaper article in a trunk in her parents’ attic, which she acquired after their death. She read an article about the Aaron Burr Association in the Wall Street Journal and contacted the group, which was eager to see the information.

Bailey is Kakuk’s great-great-great-aunt, Kakuk said. Bailey never married, Kakuk said.

She was 32 when in 1836 she met Burr after he checked into the hotel on June 15, 1836. Burr died Sept. 14, 1836.

“She was visiting her cousin who operated the hotel,” Swick said. “That’s how she met Burr.”

Bailey wrote an account of Burr’s passing for The Oneida Dispatch in New York, which published the manuscript in 1875, Swick said. Born in 1804 in Groton, Mass., Bailey died in 1892 in Syracuse, N.Y.

Kakuk had a copy of the newspaper article and Swick first learned of its existence at a 2006 meeting of the Aaron Burr Association at the Blennerhassett Hotel in August and September 2006 when the two met. The 70-page book took more than six-and-a-half years to write and research, Swick said.

Bailey’s article contains new factual information never published since its initial publication in 1875, Swick said. The information includes his residence in the hotel, how he died there, friends who visited and that Burr was not an easy patient to care for, Swick said.

“It formed the core of our book,” he said.

Kakuk lauded Swick’s attention to detail, research and writing.

“Ray Swick is a wonderful person to work with,” she said.

The book will be available on June 18 when Swick and Kakuk will hold a book signing from 1-3 p.m. in the lobby of the Blennerhassett Museum. Books can be purchased at the gift shop at the Blennerhassett Museum for $14.95.

The printing run is 250 copies, he said. The publisher is Printing Press Ltd. in Charleston.